Consequences occur when a young person has violated a known boundary. It is important that your teen knows both that violating the boundary will result in a consequence and what that consequence will entail. This relieves a lot of the stress and pressure from the situation when the teen is confronted with the consequences of their actions and will help to maintain the relationship despite the strain. But how do you ensure that you are creating effective consequences?

There are three things you should keep in mind when setting reasonable consequences for actions. As much as possible, the consequences should be:

1. Timely
2. Short term
3. Strong enough

Effective consequences will take place as soon after the offending action as possible. The further away from the offense, the less the teen will associate their behaviour with the consequence.

You can help ensure that you are being timely by setting out the consequences before the infraction takes place. For example, by sitting down and explaining what the consequence will be for breaking curfew when the curfew is first communicated, you ensure that if curfew gets broken the consequence can be immediately explained without the need for double checking with your partner or negotiating with your teen.

Short term

Similar to having a timely response, having a short-term consequence better associates it with the offense without causing undue bitterness from perceived injustice. This has the added benefit of allowing your teen to try again and succeed.

Strong enough

…but not too strong. You want it to be strong enough to get their attention. An effective consequence will be connected to the related offense. This allows the pain to be placed on the teen in a manner that reflects the boundary that was broken.

In the case of the broken curfew, requiring a week of washing dishes for breaking curfew isn’t in line with the boundary that was broken. A consequence like, “The following Saturday will be spent at home with no friends allowed to visit,” is both strong and more in line with the issue being addressed. Also, this is a far more short-term consequence for the action (though it may sacrifice a bit of timeliness).

Negotiating Consequences

Consequences ought to be negotiated with the teen ahead of time rather than in the moment. Sit down with your teen and talk about curfew, why they think it’s important to you as a parent, and what they think the consequence should be for breaking that trust. Giving some ownership over the consequences may make them more understanding when a consequence needs to be enacted.

Additionally, there may be moments when consequences need to be reconsidered. Perhaps an event, a concert or something similar, is happening that Saturday. Be willing to sit down with your teen and renegotiate this specific instance. Ask them what they are willing to sacrifice to make that happen. What they are giving up should be of greater value than the typical consequence would be. “All day at home on Saturday up until the event, and then all day next Saturday as well,” might be an acceptable compromise.
Be willing to be flexible, but not a pushover.

Consequences to avoid

There are a few obvious things to avoid, but one that isn’t immediately obvious to parents.

Obviously, avoid any sort of physical violence or abuse. That should go without saying, but there it is.

Second, and less obvious, do not impose any sort of consequence that cuts off your influence over your child. If you have weekly family game nights or a monthly night where a parent takes their child to a restaurant or bowling alley or other activity to hang out one-on-one, don’t take those away. (And if you’re not doing something like that, seriously consider doing it.) Those are opportunities to pour into your child’s life and removing it implicitly says, “You don’t get to have a relationship with me if you’re not a good kid.”

Think back on the curfew consequence. What wasn’t said? There was nothing that kept the teen from spending time with the family. In fact, the consequence almost does the opposite. It removes the option to go out with friends or have friends over. The most convenient form of social interaction is going to be with family. Instead of removing your ability to reach your teen, you improve it.
Someone is going to influence your teen. You want it to be you.

Creating an effective consequence is difficult, but with a little effort you can do it!

We hope that this content has been informative and helpful. It is our desire to help families and bring struggling teens back together. We encourage you to share this information with others who may be in need.

Our ministry is primarily funded by our supporters, both individuals and churches, who partner with us to bring about restoration in these young men's lives. To join them in supporting Rock Solid Refuge and our ongoing ministry, please click here to donate!

Thank you for your support.

More information

Teen Depression

Teen depression is a completely treatable illness that millions have found healing from.

Read More

Suicide Epidemic Among Teens

Today, nearly one in ten teens contemplates suicide, and over 500,000 attempt it each year.

Read More